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Opinion | Restore good time credit for Michigan inmates who earn it

The Saginaw Correctional Facility is one of many prisons here in Michigan. In one capacity or another, many of my constituents know a person who works in the criminal justice system, is incarcerated, or is even relocated to our area to be closer to a loved one within the prison. I want my community to be reminded that I am, and will continue to be, an advocate for reforms in the criminal justice system.

Michigan Rep. Amos O’Neal
State Rep. Amos O’Neal, D-Saginaw, is chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Corrections and an advocate for criminal justice reform.

Until now, prison reform in Michigan was locked away by the Grand Old Party’s legislative agenda. Passed in 1998, Michigan’s Truth in Sentencing legislation eliminated good time credit for prisoners. Eight years prior to the implementation of this law, the United Nations established priorities for Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners. The first principle is a reminder for all — those who make laws, those who aim to safeguard justice, and especially to those who cling to archaic retributive justice:

“All prisoners shall be treated with the respect due to their inherent dignity and value as human beings.”                 

This statement should resonate with each of us: to respect prisoners with the dignity and value that is inherently human. Last session, I introduced several bills that embodied this particular principle. 

Michigan, like many other states, requires prison reform. This term, I plan to reintroduce many of those bills — in fact, I’ve already reintroduced a bill to end juvenile life without parole. 

My work doesn’t end there, however, as I plan to also reestablish the good time credit for those serving prison time and am working on legislation to amend jury selection processes. Michigan’s average sentence length is about 51 months (four years and two months); this is approximately three years longer than the lowest average sentence between all states. 

For 25 years, Michigan prisoners have not been given a chance to lower their sentences based on good behavior. Year after year, families sign petitions advocating for the reestablishment of good time credit legislation so a loved one can earn time back on their sentence and come home to their child(ren), family and friends — to their lives. 

A prisoner’s life, just as much as anyone else's life, has value, and even if those individuals have lost some inherent liberty prescribed by our society, they still deserve to be treated as human with mercy and fairness, and as the Constitution dictates. 

We finally have a majority that truly safeguards the “inherent dignity and value” of all human beings — and prisoners are no exception. As chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Corrections, I will continue to advocate for adequate funding for improved prison systems, well-trained corrections officers and beneficial prisoner support resources.

Michiganders not only deserve a criminal justice system that does enact justice, but also a system that provides the large spectrum of human rights that supports and assists prisoners. I will continue as your representative and a citizen to advocate for positive change that continues to do just that — for the future of our justice system.

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